LINVILLE — Following a two-month closure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Grandfather Mountain will tentatively open in a limited capacity May 15, with all ticket sales moving online.
In accordance with N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phased “reopening” of North Carolina, the nonprofit nature park will strictly limit visitor numbers to follow social gathering guidelines, while implementing enhanced health and safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and federal, state and local authorities.
Grandfather Mountain is planning a soft reopening May 15, 16 and 17 and will open again May 22. The park will be closed May 18 to 21.
While guests will still be able to enjoy Grandfather Mountain’s many wonders, including the Mile High Swinging Bridge, environmental wildlife habitats and hiking, the park will be operating in a more limited capacity to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.
Now, rather than purchasing tickets at the park’s entrance gate, visitors must do so online at www.grandfather.com by placing a reservation for a set date and time of entry. This measure aims to help limit the number of guests in the park at one time, in accordance with the state’s social gathering guidelines. As such, tickets will not be sold or available at the gate, meaning visitors must book online in advance.
“The safety of our guests and staff comes first and foremost,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville nature preserve. “We will continue to follow the situation closely, while implementing a phased reopening plan closely correlated with Gov. Cooper’s.”
Park officials have enacted operational measures to discourage crowds and encourage social distancing. Buildings, such as the Nature Museum and Fudge Shop, will remain temporarily closed, with public restrooms available at the Woods Walk Picnic Area.
The Top Shop will welcome a limited number of guests at a time, while the park’s on-site restaurant, Mildred’s Grill, will offer curbside pickup, allowing guests to dine in their vehicles or at one of the park’s 100-plus picnic sites.
High-traffic pedestrian areas, such as the Mile High Swinging Bridge and wildlife habitats, will implement a one-way directional system to ensure that guests do not come within six feet of each other — the minimum safe distance recommended by the CDC and other health officials.
The number of guests allowed to visit such areas at one time will be limited, based on state social gathering recommendations, while a time limit will ensure that others can participate in turn. However, guests are welcome revisit such areas during the same trip.
Time limits will be not be enforced for the park’s less crowded, lower-traffic areas.
The park has enhanced its already stringent cleaning procedures and placed additional sanitization stations in key areas, while boosting staff presence to direct traffic flow and encourage safe social distancing.
“It’s going to be a different experience for our Grandfather Mountain friends and family — almost like a guided tour, in a sense,” Pope said. “But guests will still be able to share the mountain’s many wonders, and in a quieter, less crowded setting. When we get to Phase 2, there will be more facilities open and more people allowed to come to the park, and the same with Phase 3.”
The park’s new reservation-based ticketing system is now open at www.grandfather.com. Tickets are only available online to encourage contact-free admission to the park. Tickets are also fully refundable and may be exchanged for a later reservation.
Guests who hold season passes through Grandfather’s Bridge Club annual membership program will continue to receive free admission, although reservations must still be placed online. Current Bridge Club members whose passes were purchased prior to the closure will have their subscriptions extended by the length of the closure.
Pope emphasized that the opening date and new guidelines are subject to change, based on current conditions and federal, state and local regulations. As such, those planning a trip are encouraged to click to www.grandfather.com for updates.
“We’ve missed our guests tremendously and have been thinking about them and their families during this challenging time,” Pope said. “We look forward to having them back on the mountain, and we’re working hard to make sure the park will be safe for them when that happens.”
The not-for-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call 800-468-7325, or click to www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.